By Bryce VanStavern
In 1988 the White House of the Confederacy opened to the public for tours after a 12-year restoration. In preparing for public tours, staff had to decide how best to guide visitors through two floors of the house. Much thought went into making those decisions, and for almost 30 years, tours of the White House of the Confederacy have followed the same path.
As we, the interpretive staff of the American Civil War Museum, review and reassess how we interpret the White House of the Confederacy, we have decided to change how tours flow through the house.
The tour path on the first floor is unchanged; however, the second-floor path has been altered. If you have toured the house before, you may recall that tours of the second floor began in Jefferson Davis’ office, proceeded to the Davis’ bedroom, then ending in the nursery. In January, we reversed the flow, beginning in the Davis bedroom, proceeding to Davis’s Office and ended in the nursery.
We no longer interpret the linen closet as Burton Harrison’s Office. We have created a space for Harrison in Davis’s Office, which we feel is a more accurate interpretation of Harrison’s work space in the house.
These are big changes for those of us who guide visitors through the home, and it has taken a bit of getting used to. But for our visitors, the changes offer new opportunities. For instance, visitors get to see the rooms from different perspectives. Davis’s office is experienced in a much different way. Visitors stand in a totally different place and see the office in a more accurate way. Visitors now go into the nursery through a different door, and again, get to see that room in a slightly different way.
In addition to the changes in the tour path, we are changing and rearranging some of the furnishings in the house. As a result, the house will feature a larger percentage of Davis items.
All these changes are being made to help us do a better job of telling you, our visitors, the stories of the house and the people it impacted, and provide the best possible experience during tours.
I am enjoying the changes. Thomas Jefferson felt that a government needed to be shaken up every now and then. Perhaps the same is true of historic home tours. And so, for 2017, we have shaken things up a bit and our visitors will get to experience the house in a different way.